My first week of school was a little different from most people's, I think. Because my school is under construction, they don't have grounds to hold the sports festival (more on that in a later entry). So, they're holding it at the elementary school this coming Thursday, because that's a holiday and school is out. Usually the festival is on a Saturday and class is canceled the following Monday to compensate. Not so much with my school's situation. And as a result, classes are canceled half the time in order to prepare. Which means I don't really have a lot to do.

Additionally, the school year only just started, so there's all the textbooks to hand out and beginning tests to do. So far, I've just given my introduction to each homeroom, which was about 14 times. And I think I still have a couple more third year classes I haven't gotten to yet. I've also assisted in a couple 2nd year classes, which means I read flash cards or lyrics or short paragraphs from the workbook. Nothing terribly exciting, and lots of time in the teachers' room. This week is going to be a lot of the same, but after that, things should go back to normal.

Instead I'll talk about how my school runs, for those who aren't familiar with the Japanese system.
Each grade is divided into homerooms, and those homerooms are where the students stay all day. The teachers switch rooms according to the schedule, and when they aren't in class, they're in the teacher's room. Everyone has their own desk, and students are often in and out. Before a student can enter, they have to announce their grade, homeroom, name, and purpose. At the beginning of each class, students come down to the teacher's room to see if the teacher needs any help carrying materials to class. Sometimes they come down to get the schedule for the following day, to report back to the rest of their class. As you can imagine, it can get very noisy and busy in between classes.

This isn't my picture, it's from wikipedia, but my teachers' room looks almost exactly like that. My desk is on the inside facing away from the window, right in the middle. The other ALT has a desk right across from me, though he's only there on Mondays and Wednesday.

As for class itself, it always starts with the aisatsu, or greeting. The students stand and the script goes like so:
Japanese Language Teacher: Good morning, everyone.
Students: Good morning, Ms ___
Assistant Language Teacher (me): Good morning, everyone.
Students: Good morning, Ms Lauren
ALT: How are you today?
Students: I'm good, thank you. How are you today?
ALT: I'm ____( usually fine, good, or sleepy). What day is it today?
Students: It's *day*
ALT: What's the date today?
Students: It's *date*
ALT: What's the weather like today?
Students: It's *mumble mumble*

And then I repeat all the answers and they repeat after me and then we go into the lesson or warm-up. A couple of my teachers use songs for warm-ups, and as a result, I had ABBA in my head for a couple days. Good times.

I think that's it for one entry. Next time will probably be about the sports festival. Let me know if you have any more questions about the school. :)
I've survived my first day of school! And that is probably mostly due to the fact that I did nothing at all.

I'm only at one junior high, and it's currently under construction, though I was told it should be done in December. Classes just started this week, and English classes don't start until next week, so there wasn't anything for me to do.

I arrived right around 8:00, and found my way to the teacher's room. The Vice-principal said hello and welcomed me, and then had other stuff to do. Some other teachers came in and talked to me, too, and I was really surprised by how many could speak decent english. One of the teachers (I met so many and don't remember *any* names) gave me a quick tour, showing me the teacher's bathroom, and my locker where I could keep a coat or change of clothes. I didn't get to see any of the classrooms, though, because they were so busy.

One of the english teachers gave me the books I'd be working with and explained that we didn't have any classes, so I had the day to prepare my intro lesson and look through the books.

Well, I finished reading all three books and my lesson plan and the interac guide around 10am. So there was an awful lot of time of just trying to look busy. I spent most of it listening to other conversations and talking with some of the other teachers. The teachers with desks right next to mine are really nice and friendly, and one spoke English and the other spoke really clear Japanese and a little English, so that was good. There's another ALT at my school, and his desk is right across from mine, but he wasn't there today. I'm not sure why I needed to be there at all.

Lunch was kind of awkward, because I had no idea what to do with my tray and had to ask someone to show me. (Lunch was served and eaten in the teachers' room.) But the teacher I asked was super nice and helpful. Everyone was super nice and helpful, I just had to ask, which was sometimes difficult because my Japanese is so rusty.

After lunch, classes were cancelled so that the teachers could go visit the students' families. But first, the students clean the school, and that includes the teachers' room. So after they finished that, one brave boy came and talked to me, with some help from another teacher. It was very cute. And I think another one was talking about me, thinking that I couldn't understand him, because one of the other teachers scolded him in a hushed voice. And I wasn't really paying attentions, so I couldn't tell if he said kowai or kawaii - one means scary, the other means cute. SO yeah.

After that, I was allowed to leave, and I had several students shout "Have a good weekend!" or "Hello!" and get all excited when I replied to them. That was encouraging, at least. And they gave me the leftover bread and milk, haha. So I got three little loaves of bread and like, 8 mini-cartons of milk. Which was great, because I'm out of milk, and I needed some hot chocolate as soon as I got home because it was freezing today. I'm just glad it wasn't raining, because that would be miserable.

Next week, though, I should be actually in a classroom. I should be getting my scheduled mailed to me this weekend, though I'll most likely just be doing my intro lesson.

And that's pretty much it. It is really really cold, so I'm staying inside tonight, and possibly tomorrow, though I need to get more food. Might make a quick grocery store run in the afternoon, but that's it.
I'll just keep this simple - here's a video of my apartment, taken the day I moved in. I've moved in a bit more since then, but you get an idea of my little place.

A very cool Japanese tradition is to go see the cherry blossoms in the spring. Many people go have picnics under the trees, and there are also lots of festivals. I went with five other ALTs down to Mito over the weekend to check out a music/cherry blossom festival, and it was awesome.

I live about a 40 minute walk from the train station, and Mito is about a 25 minute train ride away. Of course, once we got to Mito, we had no idea where we were supposed to go, so we just kind of wandered for a bit. We found a nice lake with gorgeous cherry blossom trees, and lots of people were out picnicking or taking pictures. We also found a shrine that we explored a bit, but in the end, we did find the festival.

There were lots of food booths set up and I got a very yummy melon crepe. There was also a stage for the performers. I only stayed for a couple sets because it was really cold, and I didn't have a jacket. As it was, I still got back to my station after dark. Thankfully, it's not a complicated path to my apartment.

The music itself was pretty cool. The first group was actually a few dancers that reminded me of the ones from the Hari Krishna Festival of Colors. After that was a very indie sounding group that had lots of cool instruments that were very Japanese, and a couple that sounded like those you hear in Australian outback-y type songs. After that was this awesome group that did all english songs - Superstitious by Stevie Wonder and I Feel the Earth Move by Carole King, just to name a couple. But they were great and so much fun.

I'm playing a little bit of catch-up here, sorry. It's been a very busy past few days.

Beautiful Hitachi

Thursday I ended up going out with a few other ALTs for dinner, and then we hung out at the arcade. The department store next the to the station and our hotel was pretty cool - It had shopping for four floors, a grocery store in the basement, and restaurants and a bunch of games on the fifth floor. And the food was quite good, and as always, very pretty. The food in the picture below is not actually food - that's a cell phone charm that looked freakishly real.

Friday was the last day of Orientation, and we had to give our sample lessons. I get really nervous presenting in front of adults, though I'm ok with kids, so I was really anxious for the whole thing to be over. We were partnered up, and my partner kind of...winged his half? That was certainly interesting, heh. But overall we did fine, as did everyone else. No one got sent home. :)

After that, though, was the party. First we went to this gyouza bar that one of the previous ALTs really liked. I think there were about 30 of there at one point, because there were all the new ALTs, plus a bunch of foreigners that were already in the area, plus our bosses! Yeah, I met my branch head in a bar. It was very odd. But the gyouza was really good, and there was even a taco flavored one! Those were tasty.

After that, we hit karaoke. A few people declined or went back to hotel because they had to catch early trains, but we still had about 20 people in one room (and the room was meant for maybe 10-15). Most people sang English, but a few brave ones tried Japanese (and were really good!). It was a ton of fun and we didn't wrap it up until around 2am. And then in the lobby when we were paying and such, a few members of our group made friends with some Japanese guys that were getting their own room. It was great.

And that was the end of Hitachi Orientation. I am very glad it's over, though I already miss some of the people. We had a really good group. Luckily, a lot of people are still here in Hitachi, so I'm set with people to hang out with. The next few entries will be about my apartment and assorted other business, and then about the Hanami (Cherry Blossom Viewing). Lots to talk about!
So it's Wednesday night and we're halfway done with Orientation. Most all of the administrative paperwork and such is done as far as the job goes, but I'll have more once I move into my apartment what with getting my alien card and bank account and all that fun stuff.

Other than said paperwork and the health check, Orientation has actually been pretty fun. Everyone here is pretty cool and there are some great senses of humor mixed in with the crowd. So we get some great conversations (zombies in Japan and our survival chance, also a screenplay) and running commentaries (It's Japan.). We've got quite the mix of foreigners, too: American, British, Irish, Scottish, Canadian, and Australian (I think I got them all). And somehow a bunch of those Americans ended up being from Texas. Seriously, I think 3 people in Hitachi are from Texas. With that group of people though, it's been a lot of fun.

Our evenings are free, though I haven't done a whole lot with mine. The past couple days, I was still recovering from jet lag and just slept or chilled in my room. But today I went exploring with one other person. Basically we just checked out the department store by the station and found the 100 en shop (the dollar store equivalent), but we also spent some time in the arcade on the top floor. You've never seen crane games until you've seen 20 or so of them all crammed into one place. There were also purikura (photobooths), tons of slot machines, pachinko, air hockey (which we played and I lost) and a taiko-type game (which I also lost).

I also took a video of my hotel room, for anyone interested. It's not terribly exciting, but there you go. :)

And I think that's it for tonight. I've also gotten my school schedule and my apartment location, but I'll go more into those once I've moved in and can give pictures and such.

If you have any questions for me, please leave them in the comments, and I'll try to answer them. :)
After a very, very long day of travel, I finally made it to Japan. A quick rundown of the trip, keeping in mind that I work up around 5am CST:
-2 hour plane to Houston
-1.5 hour layover
-13 hour plane to Narita
-1.5 hours through immigration/customs
-1.5 hr at the airport, buying bus tickets, sending luggage, calling ahead, waiting
-3 hr bus to Hitachi

And then, sleep. I was completely exhausted by the end. That was a very long flight. I think I watched about 5 movies, and 10 episodes of various shows.

I'll post a little more about what I've done here later, but I need to get ready for another day of Orientation and getting set up. I know this was a sparse post, but I'm still kind of jet-lagged and I'm trying to multi-task.

Hope everyone else who's traveling is doing well and everyone at home, too!
I can't believe it's finally here. I'm sitting in the hotel next to the airport right now, preparing to get on my 7:30 flight tomorrow morning.

I ended up with two huge bags to check, and then my giant purse and a laptop bag. It's going to be an adventure in and of itself getting from the airport to the hotel. It's a good thing I aimed for one checked and one carry-on, because if I planned for two checked bags, there's no way I would have made it. As it is, I'm probably going to have one bag overweight. It is really hard to condense your life into two suitcases!

But enough of that. These last few days have been spent saying goodbye. My co-workers were super sweet and we had a little Going Away Get Together thing. It was a lot of fun, and while I'm not going to miss that job so much, I will miss the people. My last day of work was Wednesday, and it's a good thing I gave myself a few days off to finish getting ready.

Today, I also said goodbye to most of my family. We went out to dinner at the plaza in Kansas City, and I have to say that Jack Stack Steakhouse was a fantastic choice for a last American Meal. It was sooo good, and I was completely stuffed. Afterwards, my mom and I came to this hotel and my brothers and Dad went back home. We live about an hour away from the airport, so instead of leaving at 4 in the morning, we just got a hotel room. An extra hour of sleep and a little less stress.

However, in an attempt to get a head start on jet lag, I want to stay up all night. Then, I'll sleep on the flight and my clock will be so messed up that by the time I get to bed in Japan, I'll sleep a full night and be set. I don't know that that'll work, because I'm already sleepy after a very busy day.

The next post will be typed in Japan!